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Smart home this, connected that, the internet of things — all terms you’ve heard in abundance over the past week thanks to CES 2017, which undeniably had an impressive spread of cool smart home stuff for us to add to our homes later this year when most of those products will actually launch. But for those who are new to the wonderful world of home automation and connectivity, jumping aboard the smart home train can certainly be daunting.
Especially now in 2017, when there are so many different types of connected devices, it can be tough to decipher which are necessities and are actually useful (or simply fun), and which are entirely unnecessary (looking at you, Hair Coach).
We’re here to help. As smart home enthusiasts, we’ve had our toes in the connected things water for quite some time, and it’s safe to say that we know our way around smart home products. So if you’re looking to get started on building your smart home, here are seven essential products to get you started:
1. Amazon Echo Dot (Alexa)
Amazon’s artificial intelligence-driven assistant is incredibly helpful, so much so that it should make an Amazon Echo your first smart home purchase. We recommend the Amazon Echo Dot because of its significantly lower price. At just $50 (and it was found as low as $35 during the holiday season), you’re getting a lot of functionality and control right out of the box. It’ll connect to your smartphone to allow you to control hundreds of apps with your voice. Order Dominos, call an Uber, order products on Amazon, and find out the weather without picking up your phone. You can create shopping lists, reminders, calendar events, timers, play music, and so much more by just having an Echo and a smartphone. What’s more, it’s entirely scaleable, so you’ll use it as a hub for other connected products you might buy down the line. With new Skills being added daily, and an endless number of “best things you can do with Alexa” lists taking over your Facebook feed, it’s clear that Alexa really is taking over.
I’ll also note that this year’s CES saw an unprecedented amount of new connected products that will work with Alexa when those products launch, meaning your Alexa-driven device is going to get even more functionality as the year progresses.
Best of all, it’s one of the best cheap smart home products you can buy right now.
2. Logitech Harmony Hub
One thing that works very well with the Echo is the Logitech Harmony Hub, which allows you to control up to 270,000 devices, ranging from TVs and cable boxes to your Wi-Fi connected Roku, Xbox One, PS4, and more. On top of that, you’re able to control many of your smart home devices, including Sonos, Phillips Hue lights, and more. Setup for the unit itself is easy, and on its own, it’ll basically function like a smart universal remote. With the device, you’re able to create activities that connect your devices together so that you can turn everything on (or off) with the touch of a single button. What’s more, new functionalities have just recently been added for Alexa and Harmony integration, allowing you to not only turn the TV on and off without touching a remote but now you can also tell Harmony to pause the TV, lower/raise the volume, and even set a sleep timer.
If you’re looking to go remoteless, the Logitech Harmony Hub is the first step.
3. Logitech Pop
The Logitech Pop allows you to, basically, take some of the complex smart lighting and smart home functions and make them super easy for anyone to use — as long as they can push a button. Each Logitech Pop button can be used for three different functions (One Tap, Double Tap, or Hold) to trigger a variety of things. I have one of my Logitech Pops right in the doorway to my living room set up so that when I press it once it will fade on one of my LIFX bulbs, start my Wemo coffeemaker, and turn on the TV — this way, I don’t have to say “Alexa, trigger the lights”, “Alexa, make coffee”, and then “Alexa, turn on the TV”. Instead, I just press the button once, and all of that starts.
Sure, it might take a little bit of tinkering to get it right, but once you do, you’re able to setup some pretty useful Pops. Another one I have is to kill my Phillips Hue lights, turn on the TV, turn on the PS4, and switch to the correct input so that I’m ready to play my PS4. With a longpress, I have the Pop set my Phillips Hue lights to a Netflix shade of Red, turn on the TV, and turn on Netflix. These functionalities require the Harmony Hub, but if you already have it, you’re in for tons of usefulness. What’s more, you can connect your Logitech Pop to the plethora of things IFTTT can do.
4. LIFX Smart Bulbs
The newest wave of LIFX A19 Smart Bulbs are the brightest and best-looking smart bulbs on the market (yes, I like them better than my Phillips Hue lights). The reason they’re better is that they don’t tie up an outlet in your home, as they don’t require any sort of hub to use. As long as you have a smartphone, you can set your LIFX bulbs to do a number of things.
They’re the equivalent of a 75W bulb, and there are 16 million colors to choose from. You can create scenes, use animated lights (like a candle flicker, color cycle, and more), or pick any color with any level of brightness.
But it’s when you connect your LIFX bulbs to IFTTT that the fun really begins. I can have IFTTT tell my LIFX bulbs to change the color to a snowy blue whenever the Weather Underground app says it’s snowing in my area. As I mentioned above, I can set my LIFX bulb to a Netflix shade of red using a Logitech Pop (or with your smartphone), turn it to a bright lime green when I’m hopping onto my Xbox One, or set it to a cool blue when I’m ready to play on my PS4. Why? Well, why not!
I’m using one of my LIFX bulbs to give me information. When my phone’s battery is low, the light will blink red. When someone mentions Nerd Much? on Twitter, the light flashes a Nerd Much? shade of green (#83705 for those keeping score at home). There are a ton of uses, and even if you simply want to set it and forget, the LIFX Smart Bulb is a great starter smart home gadget to play around with.
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5. Wemo Switch
A Wemo switch is the easiest way to start smartifying your dumb home. Use it to remotely control fans, lamps, appliances, and more without having to go out and replace those old devices that work fine otherwise. Plug your Christmas lights into it, and you can set a schedule to turn those lights on even if you’re not home. Have a lamp plugged into a Wemo Switch and tell your lamp to turn on when you come on. Plug your coffeemaker into the Wemo and have it turn on every day at 6:00AM so that coffee is ready when you get up. There’s an endless number of devices you can control with a Wemo Switch, and it’s this smart home gadget’s versatility that makes it such an essential piece of the starter smart home puzzle.
The Wemo Switch is another cheap smart home product that goes a long way.
6. Ring Video Doorbell
If you’re like us, you receive numerous packages a day (Fedex, USPS, UPS, etc), and some of which require you to get up out of your office chair to sign for — the problem is, you never know which unless you go answer the door and find out if your UPS guy needs a signature or he just left the package on the doorstep. With the Ring Video Doorbell, you can see who is at your door and even communicate with them via two-way audio.
With the Ring Video Doorbell, you can see who is at the door without getting up — just pull out your smartphone and tell those bible salesmen to buzz off! It’s incredibly easy to setup, and once you do, your life will be just a little bit easier — which is the entire point of starting up a smart home, right?
7. Nest Thermostat
The Nest Thermostat will only really appeal to home owners, but it’s definitely one of the best purchases available for new smart home enthusiasts. Not only is the device a signficiant visual upgrade to your old thermostat, but it’s also incredibly useful. Set the temperature when you’re away from home, change the temperature when you’re sitting on the couch and feeling a bit cold, auto-schedule temperature changes, and use your phone to turn the AC on when you’re living work so that your home is nice and cool by the time you get home. There are so many uses for it, and the energy you’ll save by not just leaving it on all the time will make your wallet happy.
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